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Norwich Science Festival: Food and Agriculture - stopping the banana killer

PUBLISHED: 15:48 20 October 2017 | UPDATED: 12:57 23 October 2017

Scientist who works at the John Innes Centre/The Sainsbury Laboratory. Photo: John Innes Centre/The Sainsbury Laboratory

Scientist who works at the John Innes Centre/The Sainsbury Laboratory. Photo: John Innes Centre/The Sainsbury Laboratory

John Innes Centre/The Sainsbury Laboratory

The agricultural industry has been a staple in Norfolk for hundreds of years. As modern technology improves and our scientific understanding grows so to does the industry.

Scientist who works at the John Innes Centre/The Sainsbury Laboratory. Photo: John Innes Centre/The Sainsbury Laboratory Scientist who works at the John Innes Centre/The Sainsbury Laboratory. Photo: John Innes Centre/The Sainsbury Laboratory

At the Norwich Research Park, scientists and researchers are working hard to develop revolutions in this industry as laboratories push the boundaries of modern science.

The park has researchers in environmental science, plant science, microbial science, food science and health science.

One of the scientists working at The Sainsbury Laboratory is postdoctoral scientist Sarah Schmidt. She is currently working to save a fruit that many of us take for granted.

The banana is under-threat from Panama Disease. This is a fungus that infects the banana plant through its roots, blocking the vascular system of the plant meaning it is no longer able to take in water and dies.

How to stop the banana killer, Srah Schmidt. Picture: Norwich Science Festival How to stop the banana killer, Srah Schmidt. Picture: Norwich Science Festival

Dr Schmidt has been using genome sequencing to try to create a natural defence against the fungus.

She said: ”I received funding to engineer a resistance against the fungus in bananas. I had two genes that I wanted to try and introduce to the fruit, but unfortunately both of the genes were not how I thought they would be.”

Dr Schmidt has changed her approach to tackling the fungus by switching from genome sequencing to focusing on a bacteria.

“It was working,” she added, “but not the way I would feel comfortable in releasing to farmers. I can manipulate the genes but it must be applied research. The goal is to send this out to farmers, I have to be sure I am providing something that will work in the field.”

Dr Schmidt will be hosting an event at the Norwich Science Festival. How to Stop the Banana Killer will highlight her work into fighting the disease and how the banana is at risk.

She added: “Our stable food 
is wheat but in other countries like Uganada, it is the banana. 
It is really essential for food security that this fungus 
doesn’t spread.”

How to Stop the Banana Killer is on Sunday, October 29, from 2pm to 2.30pm in the Forum’s atrium. It is free and aimed at those over the age of 14.

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